Introduction and Early Life:
LaVern Baker was an American rhythm-and-blues singer and occasional actress who was one of the most prominent female stars of the mid-’50s rock & roll circuit. Known for her seductive and energetic vocal style, Baker was one of R&B’s earliest and sexiest divas who produced a number of hit records on the pop chart in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Born “Delores LaVern Baker” in Chicago, Illinois in 1929, she was the niece of Memphis Minnie, a prominent blues guitarist and singer-songwriter.
Career and Musical Achievements:
LaVern Baker started singing in Chicago clubs as the “Little Miss Sharecropper”, mostly notably the Club DeLisa, in 1946. She adopted the stage name LaVern Baker in 1952, when she began working with Todd Rhodes and his band. Baker secured a recording contract with Atlantic Records as a solo artist in 1953.
From 1955 to 1965, she scored fifteen highly influential rhythm-and-blues classics, including “Tweedle Dee” (1955), Jim Dandy (1957), and “I Cried a Tear” (1959). Although popular imitations of her singing style by white singers slowed down her career in the mid-1950s, her comeback album LaVern Baker Sings Bessie Smith (1958) demonstrated her mastery of expression, soul and feel.
Although Baker retired to the Philippines in the 1970s, she returned to perform at Madison Square Garden for Atlantic Records’ 40th anniversary in 1988. She continued to record music and perform on stage until she suffered severe health problems in the early 1990s. Her last recording was “Jump Into the Fire” for the 1995 Harry Nilsson tribute album.
LaVern Baker died aged 67 from cardiovascular disease in 1997. She is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery at Kew Gardens, New York.
Awards and Accolades:
LaVern Baker won several awards and accolades in his career. In 1991, she was only the second female solo artist in history to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Baker was honored with the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1990.
LaVern Baker married comedian Slappy White in 1959. The marriage produced no children and ended in a divorce in 1969.